Family of Private James Collinson end attempts to secure new inquest

26 July 2019

Private James Collinson was found dead at Deepcut Barracks 17 years ago – one of four young soldiers to die at the base between 1995 and 2002.

The original inquest into his death ended in an open verdict. Today James’ parents have decided to end their attempts to secure a fresh inquest.

Statement by the Collinson family concerning their son James, who died at Deepcut Barracks:

After years of waiting, watching and supporting the other Deepcut families, we have made the very difficult decision to withdraw from the process of seeking a fresh inquest into our son, James’s death.

James was 17 years old when he died. He loved the Army and had never wanted to be anything other than a soldier. We were proud to support him even though we were, like all Army families, afraid that he might one day come to harm.  But, like the families of the other trainees that died at Deepcut barracks in Surrey - Sean Benton, Cheryl James and Geoff Gray - we never imagined that we would lose our boy on barracks in England and while he was still in training. He was a child when he died – alone, armed when he should not have been and on guard duty in the dark - and there is not a day that goes by that we do not think about him and miss him. He would have been 35 years old this year.

The first inquest into James’ death recorded an open verdict.  We had always hoped that we might one day have the chance to have a further inquiry or investigation and that new evidence might come to light that would help us discover what happened to him.

But, three years on from the first fresh Deepcut inquest into the death of Pte Cheryl James in 2016, we have seen and reflected upon the toil that these inquests have had upon the other Deepcut families. They are our friends. We have witnessed first-hand how some of the parties through their legal representatives – Surrey Police in particular - have behaved towards them and how, for some, the inquest process has not been cathartic but, rather, has left more unanswered questions – some of them to do with matters that were considered to be beyond the scope of the inquests. Chief among them, for us, will always be why it took 4 young people to die violently before the British Army and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) admitted that there was something seriously wrong with the way in which they were training, supporting and supervising their trainee soldiers and those tasked with looking after them. We wholeheartedly and unreservedly blame the MoD for ignoring, year after year and death after death, the evidence that showed that our children were left poorly supervised, with dreadful instructor to trainee ratios, in an unsafe, unpleasant and at times, as the inquest into Sean Benton’s death showed, deeply abusive environment. We will never be able to forgive them. We have asked for, and are told we will receive, formal apologies from both the MoD and Surrey Police for their failures.

But we are getting older now and have grandchildren to help raise and lives to lead.  Our health is not good. Neither of us has the emotional or physical strength to sit silently through months of evidence about our son, listening to barristers who never knew him attempt to persuade a court that, notwithstanding the absence of evidence, our child was, probably, secretly suicidal and had simply kept this hidden from us.  Although we have decided not to proceed with the application for a fresh inquest at this time, if anyone has new information that they want to give us, please contact our solicitor Emma Norton at Liberty via militaryjustice@libertyhumanrights.org.uk. We would like to thank her for all her hard work.

Deepcut has cast a dark, dark shadow over the British Army. We recognise that things are changed from the time that James and the others died. But we also note with alarm recent reports into inappropriate behaviour and the seemingly endless allegations of sexual harassment and worse. It is clear that much more still needs to change. Our soldiers deserve better. James deserved better.

Yvonne Collinson-Heath & Jim Collinson

25 July 2019